Game Idea: Space Trading Sim + FPS Style RPG

We had so much fun designing our imaginary Stealth Survival Horror game that I want to do it again. Here is my new idea: Space Trading Sim + FPS style RPG. Let me give you a Hollywood pitch for this one:

Freelancer (actually Elite/Frontier but no one remembers these games) meets Morrowind/Oblivion. How does that strike you? I think it could be loads of fun. The game would essentially consist of two different modes. Parts of the game would be played “on foot” from a first person perspective. This is how you would do most of your trading, acquire quests, purchase equipment, parts and/or new ships. Then there would be “ship” mode where you actually get to steer your one-person space freighter, explore, dogfight with pirates, mine asteroid fields and do all sorts of other crazy stuff.

Before you say that this sort of thing would be an impossibly complex project, let me explain my idea fully. I gave it some thought and you are right. Making something like this happen on a scale you have seen in Freelancer, or Darkstar One (not even mentioning good old Frontier) would indeed be virtually impossible. My idea is to scale the game back a bit in order to make it work. How do we do that? We borrow the premise from Firefly!

Instead of an immense universe to be explored, lets confine the game to a single solar system or a network of 2-3 solar systems connected by wormholes. These systems have few dozen inhabitable planets in total, twice as many small moons some of which have been terraformed (fully or partially) and some of which are used for mining. There are also bunch of space stations, and asteroid mining stations scattered all over the place.

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Naturally you won’t have to make the whole planet surface accessible to exploration on foot. In fact that would be crazy. Good assumption to make would be that the player would only be allowed to explore the space port area, and adjacent locations. This can be easily explained through the game’s narrative. For example, the rich core worlds would be extremely paranoid and xenophobic (see Firefly again) and thus their space ports would work as closed, self sufficient ecosystems. Only citizens would be allowed to leave the area, and only after being subjected to thorough identity tests (DNA test, retina scan, etc). The player would be locked out.

On the other hand the Frontier planets would either be partially terraformed and have lethal atmosphere or simply be desolate. So even if the player managed to leave the space port, he would find himself in an endless dessert, steppes or even bare rocky plain.

Since we would only have a dozen or two of planets, we could design a unique space port for each of them. Available locations for exploration would be the docks, adjacent bazaar or trade district (depending on how “civilized” the planet claims to be), living areas (or hotels of offworlders), bars/taverns, and on major planets even some features like community parks, libraries, governmental buildings and etc. Same goes for major space stations, and large terraformed moons. Mining stations on the other hand could be tiny – perhaps even only few rooms, and occupied by 8-10 NPC’s each.

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If you think about each planet/moon/station as of a Morrowind/Oblivion town you can easily see the scale of the project would be feasible here. Especially since you wouldn’t need to create walkable, interesting, scenic routes between these locations. They could exist in perfect isolation since all the travel would be done through space.

Since we are working with small scale universe I would not include any kind of hyperspace jump capability. In fact, I’d make traveling between planets semi-realistic in that it would take you weeks or months of relative in-game time to reach your destination. Of course you would be able to skip the boring travel parts by hitting the auto-pilot button which would either speed up time or instantly skip to the destination barring any random encounters with pirates an/or police patrols.

What usually kills me in most of the modern space sims is the fact you cannot actually land on your own or enter the planet’s atmosphere and fly around like it was possible in Frontier. I’d love to have this option in the game. Your planets could have nice, procedurally generated landscapes appropriate to the planet type and climate. It wouldn’t have to be anything special and/or complex. Just simple stuff like lakes, plains, forests, mountains and etc.. We would make the planets on a smaller scale so you wouldn’t actually have to generate millions of miles of landscape.

Some people would complain, but Freelancer got away with planets that were smaller than some of the space stations that orbited them so I don’t think this would be a problem. Besides, there would be nothing more rewarding than dropping down onto a planet, and circling the space port few times checking out the area before touching down.

croppercapture107.jpg

You could restrict flying over the highly populated core worlds with many cities. State that it is illegal to do it, and send overwhelming forces against the player to discourage him. For example, say that these planets have long range ground defense lasers which are triggered long before you would be in range to shoot at them. So flying into the atmosphere of a core planet outside of designated airspace is suicide. The proper way to land on these planets would be to ask for landing permission, then switch on auto-pilot and wait.

Also, core planets could have thousands of cities but only some of them would contain space ports open for off-world traffic. Remember, the core is paranoid, xenophobic and downright hostile to outsiders. It adds character to the game, and it helps us to make the game smaller and less overwhelming to make.

Let’s say the player visits one of the less populated worlds. What would stop him from flying by the spaceport or the nearby city and blasting away at the buildings? I say, let them. Make some of them destructible for that very purpose (maybe even make them objectives for some quests). Just have bunch of SAM sites, defense lasers and police/military ships buzzing in the ari at each port making sure that such behavior doesn’t go un-punished. Also, attacking a space port, or civilian buildings from above would set the planet hostile to you so you would no longer land there, and their ground, and orbit defenses would attack you on sight. Any allied colonies would follow suit and also target you. The player would then have to switch to a new ship, and then purchase fake identity somewhere to get rid of his outlaw status.

I’d also have different factions like in Freelancer. Some of them may be hostile to you initially, but by taking certain quests you could become friendly with them. So if you would want to play a space pirate you could, and at some point you would be allowed to trade with other pirate groups and land on their stations and etc.

Because the game would have two distinct modes of play, it would offer much more varied assortment of missions and quests than the average space sim. There of course would be courier missions, escort missions, seek and destroy quests and etc. But you could also have traditional RPG stuff like assassinations, theft (corporate espionage), extortion, demolition and skirmish combat that would be done on foot.

The game is already getting complex as it is, but I’d love to also have an RPG element where you could actually upgrade your character. You would have set of skills, some of which would be useful on foot while others would help you while in your ship. For example, I’d definitely have something like the Mercentile and Speachcraft skills from Morrowind/Oblivion which would allow you to haggle over the price more effectively and/or charm the secrets out of various NPC’s.

I’d probably keep the combat simple and similar to what is done Morrowind/Oblivion though I’d cut it down. Since we are playing in distant future I’d probably completely remove melee, maybe with the exception of fist fighting (minimal damage – with a chance of knocking someone out, especially if attacking from stealth). I’d also stick with only few types of basic armor and weapons – some of which would be unique to specific planets. There would be some unique items with special bonuses to keep the player interested in exploring and taking quests.

I’d also make the game aware of what the character is wearing. I talked about this idea before at length. Essentially, expensive clothes would give you bonuses to mercentile and speachcraft and make NPC’s react more favorably towards you. Some exclusive establishments would even require you to wear a tuxedo to enter. Conversely, walking around in full combat armor with bunch of guns strapped to you would attract police attention and make people scared of you. Some secure areas would have metal detectors at the door, prohibiting you to enter in combat gear.

What do you think? Would you play a game like that? What would you change in the design above? What kind of features would you like to see in that game? Let’s bounce some ideas around!

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18 Responses to Game Idea: Space Trading Sim + FPS Style RPG

  1. Gothmog UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    Elite/Frontier ROCKED!
    Gods, I loved those games so much.

    I love your idea, above- I’d certainly buy it!
    So when is it coming out? ;)

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  2. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux Terminalist says:

    @Gothmog: Ha! I wish I knew. The best ETA I can give you is “Some time after Duke Nukem Forever hits the store shelves”. :)

    Also, considering that my graphic design skills are shit, I’d need to team up with some artful people to make it happen… And find a good 3D game engine to license. Any suggestions for an engine that could do both FPS and Space Sim type stuff?

    Or would we need to use two different systems – one for FPS bits, and another for simulation?

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  3. Jarek UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux says:

    That sounds amazing beyond all reason. I would definitely buy it, and if my coding skills were at that level, I would help. Sadly, they aren’t. But still, that sounds like it would be great.

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  4. Matt` UNITED KINGDOM Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    I like it :mrgreen:

    I think most good games have certain moments where you can’t help but think “hells yeah, this is awesome” (if a game lacks such moments, it’s missing something important) and I think here that would be in the landing of your ship… coming in towards a planet and watching it grow to fill your view, then steadily get more detailed as you come in would be pretty awe-inspiring stuff. The smoother the transition from space to ground, and the more you can see of it, the better.

    You probably wouldn’t even need a vast amount of horsepower for it – from any appreciable distance the planet doesn’t need any details since you’d only be able to see continents/ocean, the colour of the terrain clouds and etc, which in itself allows you to set a strong aesthetic for each planet (dusty red desert, vivid green jungle, or something more alien/hostile with a spaceport dome to aim for, the feel of the place would immediately be established)

    The broad strokes could be done procedurally, and as you said, inner planets wouldn’t let you get so close to the surface as to be within spotting distance of anything too detail-demanding. Outer planets might be mostly barren so you can continue to generate it procedurally – endless deserts don’t demand a lot.

    As for the depth of the game… I’d say this is dependent on the time and resources available more than anything else – if you can hit on the winning balance between depth in the right places, and not being off-putting to new people (by say, making it possible to get reasonable rewards out of any given area without a deep understanding of the mechanics, but very large ones by really knowing your stuff and getting into it) then the more areas you can include, the more reason players have to keep coming back, or keep switching task because there’s always another little reward in sight (and hence develop a borderline obsession because the thing’s so damn difficult to put down :D)

    Key would be making it possible to do many things from different places I think, if you take realism to it’s fullest extent then the space flight sections could get very boring when you find yourself cruising through space with nothing to do. Alleviate that with either a way to autopilot and skip time to get through it, or set the ship on autopilot in the background and provide other things to occupy the player from the ship – a handwaved means of instant communication through space would let you organise trading from the ship, or anything else that someone cleverer than myself can come up with to amuse a player while their ship trawls along (and you would want to include an alert system in case of pirate attack of course :mrgreen:)

    In the time between reading the post and previewing this comment 2 comments have popped up.. not surprising considering the large time gap in the middle of my typing this. If I was trying to do this I think I’d want the space flight and the in-person stuff to be separate… maybe have a normal FPS engine for on-world exploration, extend that into the ship to go in, load up and commence take off, then zoom back to a ship view (separate engine) for flying the thing. If you put it on autopilot, maybe you could then go back to the FPS engine to wander around the ship doing stuff… or some other means of doing things whilst onboard.

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  5. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux Terminalist says:

    @Matt`: Yes, the things should be separate but I was wondering if the same engine could be used for both parts. The question here is, for example if we use Source engine for FPS part, do we have to write our space engine from scratch, or do we dig into Source and add space flight mechanics, procedural terrain generation and etc…

    I originally imagined that at any time in space you could just hit Auto-Pilot and skip directly to your destination. If you run into pirates, you just stop somewhere in space and can choose to either fight or run. So if your ship has weapons installed you can duke it out in space. If you are playing a pacifist, you spend the weapons money on kick-ass afterburners and cloaking devices and etc.

    I sort of like the concept of wandering around the ship though. You could use it the way you use houses in Morrowind – to store your crap. You also could decorate your place by buying ship furniture, devices, ornaments and etc…

    Your first ship would have a tiny little cabin, and a single room with a bed to sleep and a cabinet to store your crap. Bigger ships would come with multiple rooms, and even NPC crew.

    For example, if you had a big ship you could install turrets, and then have to recruit NPC’s to man them. They would become your crew, and you would have to pay them salary.

    I’d also love a module where you can paint your ship and apply decals to it. I’d probably have an in-game decal editor so you could design your personalized logo and stamp it on your ship. So if you want to fly around in a raging pink ship you could.

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  6. Matt` UNITED KINGDOM Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    The ship as a house would be great, personalise it with all kinds of cool-looking crap :mrgreen: and definitely have the ship-painting thing. Any and all customisations that can be done to the ship, the character and anything else you would expect to have control over are definitely positive things.

    If you want to work in the angle of how you dress affecting how people react to you, complete customisation might become a difficulty, and arguably people ought to react to your ship too… I can imagine people commenting on your insane colour scheme, or reacting with hostility if you approach them in space whilst conspicuously charging your ultra-turbo-laser. But this does make it much harder from the design side – either you make it very customisable and lose the NPC reactions, or limit the options but include the reactions.

    Unless of course you manage to code up general rules for detecting “style”. There are known colour combinations that complement each other or clash and meanings/connotations of different colours. Where the items have a definite use you can attach meaning to that (expensive stuff as status symbols, weaponry/armour) and so forth – put together a means of interpreting what the player chooses to wear so that NPCs can react accordingly.

    It would be a stack of work to implement, but another “holy shit awesome” moment when you first get complimented on your dress sense, or, even better, get laughed out of some kind of business meeting for turning up wearing something ridiculous.

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  7. Mart SINGAPORE Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    Ever thought about starting an indie game company? Or selling your idea to one? :D

    I’ve never played space sims or space trading sims before, so I can’t really provide much feedback, but this sounds mighty intriguing..

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  8. Jaded Judas UNITED STATES Konqueror Debian GNU/Linux says:

    Luke:

    What’s this nonsense about nobody remembering Elite?

    I wish I still had my Commodore computer so I could play Elite (and Impossible Mission).

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  9. Tino GERMANY Mozilla Firefox Linux says:

    The only “modern” engine I know built to handle planetary spaceflight with landings is i-novae, used to build the indie game ‘Infinity: The quest for Earth’. Check out the videos on their website (especially the one titled ‘Seamless planetary landing video’), it does look amazing. However, nothing but a very restricted demo is released yet, so I don’t think they even license it to third-parties.

    However, if you are actually seriously considering turning something like this to a few-man side-project, I would go with panda3d. It is a nice, well-documented python 3d engine. Not that it can do anything resembling seamless planetary scapes out of the box, but you will get to something resembling a working prototype much, much faster than with anything else. If I remember correctly, one of their demos is a guy running around on uneven terrain, in like 50 lines of python.

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  10. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux Terminalist says:

    @Jaded Judas: Have you tried Oolite? Also, I was actually fairly successful running the PC version of Frontieer in DosBox. :)

    Thanks for the recommendation. Did I mention I have ZERO experience in game development btw? I’d love to make a game like this, but I’m at a loss to where even start. Also, I’m not sure when I would actually have time to work on this…

    Maybe if I’d quit sleeping I would have few extra hours each day… Nah… That totally did not work for me last time I tried that. :P

    That said, the panda3d engine looks cool, and I’m totally going to play around with it when I get home from work. Maybe something good will come out of it.

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  11. Alphast NETHERLANDS Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux Terminalist says:

    Elite/Frontier was an excellent game and we will never forget them. This said, we need to have this done at the proper scale. Nothing less than the scale of Morrowind would do. I wonder how these things work, but I’d suggest using a decent existing 3D engine. Actually, does it matter if it is not the same engine for the flight and for the exploration and RPG stuff? I think not. There would necessarily be a transition between the “space part” and the exploring part anyway. I would say the engine Oblivion is using is more than good enough for the exploration (I wouldn’t even mind the good old TES, except that it is extremely long to use, but on the other hand, it handles scripted events natively). For the space part, I don’t have a clue, but there are many games out there doing this, so I guess it exists.

    As for the problem of size and how to make areas out of reach to the players, I would warn against the problems we see in so many FPS and RPGs and that you denounced in other posts: the impassable wall. I don’t know how to do this. I am not worrying about the overflight possibility: the speed and altitude at which space ships would fly would make the viewing of details difficult. So basic details only. I don’t think randomly generated terrain would be an option. But maybe the computer could load only the portion of space the ship is “likely to be in” (that is the current “cell” and the adjacent ones).

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  12. oli UNITED KINGDOM Internet Explorer Windows says:

    great idea. been looking for something like that myself. make it soon plz!

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  13. Domcoppinger UNITED KINGDOM Google Chrome Windows says:

    I know I may be a little late but what the hell! I can confirm this game has been made! And the game looks AWESOME!

    However there are one or to issues! :( Sadly there hasn’t yet, and may never be, an English release of it as it has so far been released in Russian only. And it has been made by a particularly small company that it seems has been hit extremely hard by the recession! So it may seem that, unless you speak Russian and can get your hands on a copy, the game is a bust! Which is such a shame as it did look so good! :D

    Anyways after all that here is the link to it if you want to go check it out and feel sad at all we have missed out on! :(

    http://www.precursors-game.com/eng/news/

    CHECK IT OUT!

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  14. Alphast NETHERLANDS Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    The game looks great, but it doesn’t seem to have any RPG element in it. Only space exploration and FPS. However, my Russian is abysmal, so maybe I missed something in the video. But it does look great.

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  15. Pingback: Precursors: somone just made the game that I dreamt up. « Terminally Incoherent WordPress

  16. Panther PORTUGAL Internet Explorer Windows says:

    I may be speaking too late, but I know of an engine that is free and probably capable to do whatever you like. It is good looking, easy to use, and has some sort of commercial license you can use. To model, I recommend Blender, which is also free. The game engine is called Unity 3D. Go check it out!

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  17. irbis POLAND Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    well Parkan 2 is +/- as you described… but it sucks badly due too its world emptyness and screwed up space flying.

    but yeah, such game is a game of my dreams and untold wishes.

    if you are still interested in the topic theres also Infinity: Quest for Earth (or something along those lines) which is still in development but is also the only thing that can make our wishes come true

    anyway, if anybody knows such a game (even in top-down 2D view) please name it. i am dying to play my childhood fav genhre again :)

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  18. Emerhawk UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    There have been a few things that i would like to see as well, such as a built in ship designer, and if the game is large enough a good auto pilot(not to land you, but to get you there.

    Those who miss elite, do as search on elite IV. Someone is doing a rebuild on it.

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